Coronavirus detected in Helsinki and Turku wastewater

Microbiologists are taking samples from dozens of water treatment plants around the country to see the extent of the spread of coronavirus.

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File picture of Viikinmäki wastewater treatment plant, Helsinki / Credit: HSY

Microbiologists have discovered traces of the coronavirus in wastewater samples from Helsinki and Turku. Samples from Tampere, Kuopio and Oulu however showed no signes of the virus.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL says scientists took water samples over a 24-hour period to look for coronavirus RNA – the virus’s genetic markers.

Coronavirus RNA was detected in samples from Viikinmäki wastewater treatment plant in Helsinki in particular; but a small amount was also found in the wastewater coming to Kakolanmäki treatment plant in Turku as well.

Testing wastewater samples can give researchers more information about the extent and progression of the coronavirus pandemic in Finland – and with samples being taken from 28 wastewater treatment plants from Mariehamn to Savonlinna, and Rovaniemi to Salo, it covers around 60% of the population.

“Based on the infections found, the epidemic situation is now calming down, and wastewater studies confirm the findings of individual testing. Wastewater can be detected in advance if the virus circulates in the population to an increasing extent” explains THL researcher Tarja Pitkänen.

Sampling is being done with funding from the Ministry of Agricultre and Forestry, and scientists are looking at how long the virus can remain viable in the water – but the current round of testing gives a picture of how widespread coronavirus might be at present.